“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”—Elie Wiesel
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”—Elie Wiesel
NOTE: This article tiers off my previous post dealing with my Uncle Fedor, and a postcard he mailed on his 14th birthday from Breslau, Germany. For most of my readers, I expect this article will be of limited interest, so briefly let me explain why I’ve written it. With the exception of my Uncle Fedor, I had never heard of the other people whose names appear on the postcard. I had low expectations when I started gumshoeing, so was pleasantly surprised when I figured out all their identities. I was even more delighted when I found pictures of the person to whom the card had been mailed. Sadly, I also felt an obligation to share with readers the fate of my great-aunt Charlotte Berliner, and in a small way remember that she once existed. And, finally, I wanted to tell about the various databases I checked to uncover the vital events of the named people.
In the previous Blog post dealing with my Uncle Fedor Bruck, readers will recall that on his 14th birthday on August 17, 1909, my uncle went on a hot-air balloon ride in Breslau (today: Wrocław, Poland). Along with “Alfred & Lotte,” all signed a card postmarked from a mail train, copied here (Figures 1a & 1b), addressed to “Fräulein Helene Rothe” and sent to the attention of “Martin Rothe” in Meseritz in the province of Posen, Prussia (today: Miedzyrzecz, Poland). This was the first time I came across the surname “Rothe” in my family research.
I had been told by my parents that members of my grandmother Else Berliner’s (Figure 2) family had immigrated to New York. While I’d never met them growing up, my parents had occasional contact with them in America. These included two of my father’s first cousins, Peter Berliner and his sister (Figure 3); Ilse’s husband, Walter Goetzel, was even a witness at my parent’s wedding. (Figure 4) Gradually, though, our families lost contact. Still, without too much difficulty I was able to find Peter Berliner’s ancestors, though too late to meet Peter who died in 2000. It was while researching him in ancestry.com, however, that I learned his parents were Alfred Berliner and Lotte Berliner, née Rothe, thus, the great-uncle and -aunt “Alfred & Lotte,” who, along with my Uncle Fedor, signed the card postmarked in 1909 from Breslau, Germany. Hence, the Rothe family is related to the Berliner family by marriage.
During a visit to the Polish State Archives in Raciborz in 2014, I discovered the certificates for two of Alfred and Lotte Berliner’s three known children, Peter Berliner and his sister, Ilse Goetzel, née Berliner. Both of these documents confirmed that Lotte Berliner, née Rothe, was their mother.
I discovered additional information about my great-uncle Alfred Berliner from familysearch.org, the Mormon Church website. Microfilm roll 1184448, containing Jewish death records from Ratibor, confirmed Alfred died there on February 19, 1921, and that his wife Lotte Berliner was present. (Figure 5) Readers may remember Alfred Berliner was a brewer and the owner of the “M. Braun Brauerei” in Ratibor. Alfred was interred in the former Jewish Cemetery in Ratibor, and a photo of his tombstone exists among the photos archived at the Muzeum Raciborzu that I examined in 2015. (Figure 6)
While all these documents provided conclusive evidence of when and where Alfred Berliner died, I did not yet know his wife’s fate. Previously, I’ve made mention of the database: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945 (Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945). Not only was I able to locate Alfred and Lotte Berliner’s marriage certificate here (Figures 7a & 7b), but I also was able to find Lotte Berliner’s birth certificate (she was born Charlotte Henriette Rothe) (Figures 8a & 8b), that of two of her siblings, Helene Lina Rothe (Figure 9) and Curt Isidor Rothe (Figure 10), the names of her parents, Martin Rothe and Babette Pinner, and the death certificate of her father Martin. (Figure 11) Thus, with the historic documents found in the “Eastern Prussian Provinces” database, I was now certain that the 1909 postcard had been sent to Lotte Berliner’s sister, Helene Rothe, to the attention of Lotte and Helene’s father, Martin Rothe.
I previously mentioned I was able to locate descendants of Peter Berliner and his sister Ilse, in America. Through them, I even obtained photos of the Helene Rothe to whom the 1909 postcard had been sent. (Figure 12) I also learned a little about “Tante Lena,” as she was affectionately known; members of the Goetzel and Berliner families visited her a few times in Landau in der Pfalz, Germany, where she then lived. They learned that her husband, Dr. jur. (lawyer) Johann Alois Schönhöfer, a non-Jew, hid her in a basement and protected her throughout WWII, and that she emerged severely malnourished, with a deformed back. Knowing where Helene Rothe had lived, I contacted the Rathaus, basically City Hall, in Landau, and obtained a copy of her death certificate and learned she died there on January 17, 1981. (Figure 13)
Lotte Berliner was the last name on the 1909 postcard whose fate I had still to work out. When researching one’s Jewish relatives during the Nazi era, at some point one must consider they may have been murdered in the Holocaust, and search their names in the database of victims. Such was the case with my great-aunt Lotte Berliner. She is listed in Yad Vashem, as having been deported from Berlin, Germany to Auschwitz-Birkenau aboard “Transport 27, Train Da 13 on January 29, 1943,” arriving there a day later (Figure 14); whether Lotte relocated to Berlin after her husband’s death is unknown. A recently added feature on Yad Vashem allows users to view the route trains took to transport their victims to the extermination camps, in the case of my great-aunt Lotte, Auschwitz-Birkenau. (Figure 15)
Below is a summary of the vital events of the five people whose names appear on the postcard mailed on August 17, 1909 from Breslau, Germany:
|Alfred Max Berliner||Birth||November 6, 1875||Ratibor, Germany (today: Racibórz, Poland)|
|Death||February 19, 1921||Ratibor, Germany (today: Racibórz, Poland)|
|Charlotte (“Lotte”) Henriette Berliner, née Rothe||Birth||April 2, 1886||Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)|
|Death||January 30, 1943||Auschwitz-Birkenau, Extermination Camp, Poland|
|Adolf & Charlotte Berliner||Marriage||January 17, 1909||Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)|
|Fedor Bruck (died as Theodore Brook)||Birth||August 17, 1895||Leobschütz, Germany (today: Głubczyce, Poland)|
|Death||February 20, 1982||Yonkers, New York|
|Helene Lina Rothe (died as Helene Lina Schönhöfer)||Birth||January 4, 1892||Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)|
|Death||January 17, 1981||Landau in der Pfalz, Germany|
|Death||June 20, 1933||Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)|